narrow proposed I-69 corridor
would largely follow the U.S. 59 footprint
across the state
Nov. 15, 2007
By RAD SALLEE
/ Houston Chronicle
State highway officials have sharply narrowed the possible route of the
Interstate 69/Trans-Texas Corridor,
saying they plan to keep it close to
U.S. 59 and other existing roads.
The news comes after months of
criticism that the planned corridor and
its sister project, TTC-35 in Central
Texas, could divide farms and ranches
and suck motorists' dollars from nearby
towns to the projects' developers.
It also comes after the Texas
Legislature restricted the Texas
Department of Transportation's ability
to expand the use of tolls and
privatization to pay for new roads.
The revised study area is shown in
the federally required Draft
Environmental Impact Statement on the
I-69/TTC project, a hefty document made
public earlier this week.
Through most of its 650 miles from
Texarkana to the Mexico border, the
corridor under study initially ranged
from 20 to 80 miles wide. It has been
reduced in the DEIS to between a quarter
mile and four miles wide.
The proposed route follows U.S. 59
from Texarkana to Victoria, except
through Houston, then splits off to
Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley on U.S.
77, U.S. 281 and Texas 44.
A bypass — TxDOT uses the term
"relief route" — would skirt west of the
Because the corridor's role is to
connect urban areas rather than go
through their hearts, the identified
route generally avoids areas that are
built up or expected to grow rapidly.
However, spurs would extend to the
Port of Houston from the north and west.
Bypasses also are likely around several
Another spur is shown branching off
from north of Nacogdoches to the
Louisiana state line. Although the
Trans-Texas Corridor would stop there,
the envisioned Interstate 69 would
continue northeast to Detroit and
Canada, for a total length of 2,700
miles border to border.
An east-west connection between the
Gulf port of Corpus Christi and the
inland port of Laredo also is planned,
said project spokeswoman Gabriela Garcia
"One thing we have heard from
everybody over several years is to focus
on existing corridors and see how we can
incorporate them into the project,"
Room for toll lanes
Texas Transportation Commissioner Ted
Houghton described U.S. 59 as a
four-lane divided highway with "a
beautiful nice, wide median" where toll
lanes dedicated to trucks or cars could
be built. In some places, he said, the
footprint might need to be widened.
Garcia said the corridor would be
"demand-driven" and built in pieces as
needed. A TxDOT official also said toll
rates and the roadway could vary between
segments depending on traffic load and
In spring 2008, Houghton said, TxDOT
will set up working groups for specific
segments of the route "to advise us on
what they would like to have."
A separate group would represent
ports and another working group for the
"Each region has its own significant
issues," Houghton said.
For instance, he said, "Victoria
County has said they want dedicated
truck lanes and they are going out to
buy right of way."
Residents of the Brazos Valley want
an interstate highway to Bryan-College
Station, Houghton said. The proposed
route west of Houston would pass through
Grimes and Walker counties nearby.
For years, towns and cities along
U.S. 59 in East and South Texas have
sought to have the busy highway upgraded
to I-69. After 2002, when Gov. Rick
Perry announced his goal of building the
Trans-Texas Corridor — a statewide
network of roads and rails, pipelines
and power lines — the I-69 idea was
folded into corridor plans.
But there were changes that troubled
longtime supporters: The road would be
tolled, probably built and managed
privately, and may end up too far from
towns for local businesses to attract
David Stall of Corridor Watch, a
citizens group opposed to the corridor
concept, said the decision to build
close to U.S. 59 or on it is a partial
"I think the state is learning very
slowly," Stall said. "Those are huge
shifts in direction."
Also pleased was Texans for Safe
Reliable Transportation, which advocates
tolls and other means of stretching tax
dollars for needed highways.
"Using existing right-of-ways means
highways can potentially be built
faster, more cost effectively and with
less impact on property owners," said
spokesman Bill Noble in a statement.
It was not clear how the broad corridors
that Perry envisioned could be built
alongside U.S. 59 in East Texas, where
numerous small towns line the highway
and there is uncontrolled access from
dozens of streets, parking lots and
In those places, said TxDOT deputy
executive director Steve Simmons, "We
might have to rebuild the facility so
that the existing lanes become more like
Stall said adding lanes to U.S. 59
would be easier in the less populous
stretch from the Houston area to Mexico.
"We are talking about something along
the model of the interstate system, and
the Rio Grande Valley and Polk County
have been clamoring for that for years,"
Work on the DEIS began in 2004, and
it could take at least as long to
complete the second phase of
environmental studies to determine a
detailed route, Garcia said.
She said the process will begin in
January with 10 town hall meetings,
dates and places to be announced,
followed by 46 public hearings in
February throughout the corridor.